Historic animosities resurface

Nora Koloyan-Keuhnelian , Tuesday 29 Sep 2020

A renewed flare-up of hostilities has put Azerbaijan and Armenia at loggerheads, with some pointing fingers at Ankara as the main driver of the conflict, writes Nora Koloyan-Keuhnelian

A serviceman of Karabakh
A serviceman of Nagorno-Karabakh Defence Army (also known as Artsakh in Armenian) fires an artillery piece towards Azeri positions during fighting over the breakaway of the region (Photo: AFP)

Armenia reported the first death on its soil after Azeri shelled the Armenian town of Vartenis Tuesday morning, Reuters reported. Azerbaijan and Armenia accused each other of firing into each other’s territory far from Nagorno-Karabakh, the conflict zone, Reuters added. The Azeri side reported the death of two schoolchildren. By Tuesday late night the region’s capital, Stepanagerd, was also shot. Mardagerd and other towns were bombed on Wednesday.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, Nagorno-Karabakh (also known as Artsakhin Armenian) civilians were aggressively attacked by Azeri missiles killing a nine-year-old girl and her grandmother in Martuni region. They were the first victims of the war.

“It is the largest attack in years on Artsakh,” Congressman Adam Schiff described it, urging the United States to “urgently work with other members of the Minsk Group to restore peace and prevent any further escalation which will endanger more lives.”

The attack is the second and worst since 1 April 2016’s four-day war between the two countries that ended with a ceasefire agreement 5 April.

Amid the 27 September attack, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defence officially announced the launch of a “counterattack”.

The Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan stated that Armenia purposefully violated the norms and principles of international law, in particular international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions, deliberately targeting civilians and the infrastructure of Azerbaijan.

“If Azerbaijan is so determined to put the blame on Armenia, then I am calling Azerbaijan to accept investigative, risk reduction and observation mechanisms for ceasefire violations,” Armenian Minister of Foreign Affairs ZohrabMnatsaganian told Al-Jazeera.

Martial law and general mobilisation were declared in the Republic of Armenia and Azerbaijan. More than 10,000 volunteers have applied for registration in the Armenian armed forces. Shunt Torigian, 48, is one Armenian volunteer. “I was born in Lebanon but I settled in Yerevan since 2012.  I went to register in the army today and waiting to get the acceptance, it’s the least I can offer to my country during these difficult days,” he told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Turkey’s President RecepTayyip Erdogan claimed that Armenia added a new attack to the several it previously made against Azerbaijan.

“Armenia once again showed that it is the biggest threat to peace and tranquility in the region. The Turkish nation stands by its Azerbaijani brothers by all means, as always,” was one of his tweets concerning the war.

In another he said: “We call the world to stand by Azerbaijan in their struggle against occupation and oppression.”

And after having a phone conversation with President IlhamAliyev, Erdogan’s tweeted: “I said to my brother, we are one nation, two states, we will continue to strengthen our cooperation with Azerbaijani brothers.”

“I want to make clear statement to the whole world: it is not Azerbaijan that is fighting with Nagorno-Karabakh, it is Turkey that is fighting. They use the main modern weapons and ammunition of the Turkish army — drones, troops, soldiers and so on. F16 fighters have been in Azerbaijan for more than a month and are being used from morning until now,” Nagorno-Karabakh President ArayikHarutyunyan said on the first day of the attack, addressing his nation.

Reuters reported that, “Turkey sent 4,000 Syrian rebel fighters to support Azerbaijan in its escalating conflict with neighbouring Armenia,” interviewing two of them, anonymously. Both said that they had been told that they would earn around $1500 per month. It was reported later that at least 400 rebel fighters have been killed already.

Parallel to Tuesday’s developments in the region, Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs MevlutCavusoglu paid a visit to the ambassador of Azerbaijan in Ankara and held a joint press conference after their talks.

“As Azerbaijani brothers and sisters stand with Turkey, we will stand with Azerbaijan. We should solve this problem peacefully so that stability would prevail in Caucasia. We want Azerbaijani territories to be liberated so that the displaced Azerbaijani brothers and sisters could go back to their homes,” said Cavusoglu.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin called on Turkey to join efforts to restore a ceasefire between the two countries.

“The Russian side is in constant touch with Yerevan, Baku and Ankara on various levels,” Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said in comments carried by the Russian state news agency TASS.

“Armenia is the firm guarantee of the security of Nagorno-Karabakh. At the same time, Russia is the strategic ally of Armenia and supports Armenia’s security and peaceful settlement of the conflict,” VarujanKeghamian, assistant professor at Yerevan State University, told theWeekly.

On social media, audio went viral of an Arab man speaking in Syrian dialect: “At first, we were supposed to go fight with Turks on Turkish bases on the Armenian border. In fact, there weren’t Turks with us, just the Azerbaijan army who are all Shia. This isn’t suitable for me or for any of you. It is unacceptable to me, to you and to our religion to go and fight shoulder to shoulder with Shia. They are our enemies, more than Jews and Christians. We won’t fight or stand with them in any way,” showing that the agreement was a false one.  

“To understand the root cause of Turkish aggression against Armenians, one should take into account Turkey’s stance on the 1915 Armenian Genocide,” UzayBulut, a Turkish political analyst formerly based in Ankara, told the Weekly. Bulut added that Turkey stubbornly denies having committed that crime. “Hate speech against Armenians is nothing new and has always been commonplace in Turkey,” she added.

“Since Azerbaijan started attacking Nagorno-Karabagh on 27 September, many Turkish political leaders have been engaging in warmongering on Turkish TV and social media. Turkish media wildly claims that Armenia is using Kurdish PKK to attack Azerbaijan. This is a very absurd allegation, and neither Turkey nor Azerbaijan has provided any evidence to support it,” Bulut continued.

She stressed that Turkish-sponsored aggression against the Armenians is not solely about land: it is caused by obsessive ethnic and religious hatred against Armenians.

According to international media, as of Monday noon the Turkish Lira has dropped to historic low levels since the eruption of the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan Sunday. The lira, already among the worst performing European currencies this year, fell 2.1 per cent to 7.8 per US dollar.

According to the Defence Ministry of Nagorno-Karabakh, as of Monday night, Azerbaijan losses are: four helicopters, 49 UAVs, 80 tanks and 82 motor vehicles. While, as of Tuesday night, the spokesman of the Armenian Defence Ministry reported that the Azerbaijani army has about 790 casualties while the Armenian side lost 84 soldiers.

Azerbaijani President IlhamAliyev closed a number of social media networks inside his country, including Whatsapp, YouTube and Telegram, imposed controls on Facebook, but did not close Twitter so that the government can promote news regarding the war.

Aliyev also announced the closure of Baku Airport.

Air and land traffic in and out of Azerbaijan will remain closed at least through Wednesday, 30 September.

“Azerbaijan is an authoritarian country which imposes restrictions over its citizens in many ways for over 20 years now. This time Baku almost entirely restricted internet usage from the very beginning of the military attack on Armenia, in order not to allow the dissemination of any non-official information which can show the real situation on the frontline,” Keghamiantold the Weekly, adding that this should be taken as clear evidence of pre-planned military aggression by Azerbaijan.

The suspension of all passenger flights has two reasons, according to Keghamian: “First, to prevent the mass flight of its male citizens who want to escape military service. Second, it will allow Azerbaijan to avoid international aviation regulations and further strengthen its illegal supply chain of military equipment.”

Meanwhile, the Weekly learned that some international flights to the Armenian capital Yerevan were temporarily suspended.

When Joseph Stalin came to power in early 1920s, he applied a policy of igniting hostility between ethnicities to facilitate the process of controlling all regions under his rule. Nagorno-Karabakh region was inhabited by approximately 95 per cent Armenian population.

In 1988, Azeri and Armenian troops began a bloody war that lasted until 1994. The war had caused thousands of casualties and created hundreds of thousands of refugees.

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenia declared its independence, as did Azerbaijan, while the region remained mired with problems.

In 1992, Karabakhdeclared independence from Azerbaijan through a referendum but it did not receive international recognition, which led to military intervention by Azerbaijan to subject the region to its authority and jurisdiction. Armenia responded by intervening to support the Armenian population.

In May 1994, all parties accepted a truce agreement known as the Minsk Truce after negotiations in the capital of Belarus with the participation of the US, France and Russia, and up till today the Nagorno-Karabakh remained an autonomous region in which an Armenian majority lives and rejects the authority of Azerbaijan.

In November 2008, the two countries signed a declaration calling for a peaceful settlement of the conflict, but battles continued.

“Nagorno-Karabakh has been demographically and culturally Armenian for centuries. But many Western writers refer to it as ‘Armenian-occupied land’,” the Turkish analyst concluded.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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